Columnist’s crusade OK with Seattle

Not only does this columnist comment on the news, he’s busy making it.

By Julie Kredens, staff writer

Author bio information is from the time of article submission and may not be current.

FineLine: The Newsletter On Journalism Ethics, vol. 2, no. 7 (October 1990), p. 4.

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Middle-class taxpayers bearing the brunt of the $500 billion S&L bailout? “Not with my bucket, buddy!”, wrote Seattle Times columnist John Hinterberger. Hundreds of readers wrote back in agreement, asking “what can we do?” Hinterberger told them, and now the “Not With My Bucket Brigade” is 800 members strong and growing, afire with the idea that Joe Lunchbucket can beat Washington after all.

A popular cause, but is it the place of a newspaper columnist to be leading the rally? Making the news, rather than commenting on it? 

Times editor Michael Fancher believes columnists have “special license” to do things beyond what a reporter should, “even if they’re wrong and outrageous.”

“We pay them to bring a point of view,” he said.

Fancher said even if a columnist’s viewpoint was unpopular, even racist or sexist, he wouldn’t intervene. “The readers would let him know if he was out of sync, anyway.”

After the first “Bucket Brigade” columns, Hinterberger said Fancher sent a note, “Great stuff — go ahead with your revolution!”

And go ahead he did. At the suggestion of managing editor Alex MacLeod, Hinterberger took off for Washington, D. C., in late July, bearing the message of the people to Seattle’s congressional delegation and filing reports for the Times.

The Bucket Brigade has a busy schedule of town meetings and rallies before the November election. Candidates not in step with the Brigade’s views have been targeted for defeat. KING-AM talk show host Mike Siegel is also involved, giving the campaign another medium.

The Bucket Brigade’s message is appearing almost weekly in Hinterberger’s columns. That’s OK with Fancher, who says he has no problem with the campaign as long as it’s kept “within the confines of the column, and doesn’t compromise fair and balanced news coverage.”

Macleod doesn’t think the credibility of their news will be hurt. “I don’t think readers see it as anything other than John Hinterberger on his soapbox.”